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The response to incentives and contractual efficiency: Evidence from a field experiment

  • Paarsch, Harry J.
  • Shearer, Bruce S.

We use data from a field experiment to estimate worker reaction to incentives and the optimality of piece-rate contracts. Our estimate of the elasticity of output with respect to piece rates is 0.39. Regression methods cannot predict performance under hypothetical contracts. Therefore, we apply structural econometric methods (without imposing profit maximization) to evaluate observed-contract optimality. Using profit as a metric, we estimate the distance between observed and profit-maximizing contracts to be negligible. This suggests that observed contracts closely approximate optimal contracts under asymmetric information about worker ability. Under complete information, the firm could increase expected profits by 14 percent keeping workers indifferent to the observed piece-rate contract. Profits could increase between 44 and 49 percent if the firm exploited information about ability to reduce worker utility to the outside alternative.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal European Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 53 (2009)
Issue (Month): 5 (July)
Pages: 481-494

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Handle: RePEc:eee:eecrev:v:53:y:2009:i:5:p:481-494
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/eer

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  1. Harry J. Paarsch & Bruce S. Shearer, 2007. "The Response to Incentives and Contractual Efficiency: Evidence from a Field Experiment," Cahiers de recherche 0701, CIRPEE.
  2. Paarsch, H-J & Shearer, B, 1996. "Piece Rates, Fixed Wages, and Incentive Effects : Statistical Evidence From Payroll Records," Papers 9623, Laval - Recherche en Energie.
  3. Canice Prendergast, 1999. "The Provision of Incentives in Firms," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(1), pages 7-63, March.
  4. Christensen, Bent Jesper & Kiefer, Nicholas M, 1994. "Measurement Error in the Prototypal Job-Search Model," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 12(4), pages 618-39, October.
  5. Adam Copeland & Cyril Monnet, 2009. "The Welfare Effects of Incentive Schemes," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(1), pages 93-113.
  6. Edward P. Lazear, 2000. "Performance Pay and Productivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1346-1361, December.
  7. Baker, George P, 1992. "Incentive Contracts and Performance Measurement," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(3), pages 598-614, June.
  8. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1991. "Symposium on Organizations and Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 15-24, Spring.
  9. Bellemare, Charles & Shearer, Bruce S., 2006. "Sorting, Incentives and Risk Preferences: Evidence from a Field Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 2227, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  10. Bruce Shearer, 2004. "Piece Rates, Fixed Wages and Incentives: Evidence from a Field Experiment," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 71(2), pages 513-534, 04.
  11. Harry J. Paarsch & Bruce S. Shearer, 1999. "The Response of Worker Effort to Piece Rates: Evidence from the British Columbia Tree-Planting Industry," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(4), pages 643-667.
  12. Craig, Ben & Pencavel, John, 1992. "The Behavior of Worker Cooperatives: The Plywood Companies of the Pacific Northwest," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(5), pages 1083-105, December.
  13. Ferrall, Christopher & Shearer, Bruce, 1999. "Incentives and Transactions Costs within the Firm: Estimating an Agency Model Using Payroll Records," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 66(2), pages 309-38, April.
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